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The Dylan Questionnaire: David Gaines

In the second installment of our blog series, David Gaines, English professor and Dylan expert (and superfan), answers the Dylan Questionnaire.

What was the first Dylan album you purchased? What’s your favorite? Your least favorite?

First album: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in Grand Prairie, Texas at Wray’s Record Store in 1963. Favorite: Blood on the Tracks (and New York Sessions even more than what we got initially). Least favorite: Knocked Out Loaded (with the crucial exception of “Brownsville Girl”).

What’s Dylan song tops your personal playlist and why?

“Mr. Tambourine Man” for when I first heard it and every time I hear it. The penultimate stanza (Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind) is beautiful beyond description and some of his live harmonica outros to it are as well.

How many Dylan concerts have you attended? Describe the performance you found most memorable.

I’ve seen Dylan a little over a dozen times over forty plus years. His performance in Grand Prairie in 2012 (the night after seeing Leonard Cohen in Austin) was particularly resonant for me because (1) the performance was less than five miles from where I grew up listening to Dylan in Wray’s and on the radio and (2) we were right at the stage when he turned in our general direction and adlibbed and that’s a long time right after the line the next sixty seconds can feel like eternity in “Things Have Changed.” Sitting at his white piano and sort of looking our way, he grinned as if he was indeed pleased with the moment.

In no more than 100 words, describe why Dylan matters.

Dylan has given us much of the soundtrack of the last fifty years. His lyrics that pop up on Tiananmen Square and Madison Avenue as well as in judicial decisions and sports broadcasts. His music provides ways into conversations about art, politics, love, faith, and creativity. Dylan’s work has run through my closest relationships in and out of classrooms and cars, houses and bars. It reminds us of what matters and endures. Our lives are richer for his mind, heart, humor, and courage.

David Gaines is Professor of English and Director of Fellowships and Scholarships at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. He has received numerous teaching and advising awards in his thirty-year career. Author of In Dylan Town: A Fan’s Life (University of Iowa Press, 2015) and articles for a wide variety of publications ranging from The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Boston Globe to Texas Monthly and Dylan fanzines Montague Street and The Bridge, he is currently working on a project about Dylan’sTheme Time Radio Hour as well as a history of 630 acres in the Texas Hill Country. His thoughts on Dylan’s reception of the Nobel Prize were broadcast on Al Jazeera, National Public Radio, and the official SVT documentary. His wife Norma and all four of their children are Dylan fans of varying degrees. And the first song his newborn granddaughter Willow heard three weeks ago was Dylan’s version of “Froggy Went a Courtin’.”